ARSENAL secured their second league title in three years, finishing with just one defeat, the best record of any champion club since Preston North End in 1889. Unlike in 1989, however, when Arsenal won their first title since 1971, the success of the Gunners seemed far less celebrated, with many onlookers suggesting that Liverpool had lost the championship rather than the outcome being a reflection of Arsenal’s superiority.
Certainly, Arsenal capitalised on the dramatic resignation by Liverpool’s manager, Kenny Dalglish, who resigned in February 1991 after a 4-4 FA Cup tie with Everton. Liverpool., who had been setting the pace all season, were three points clear of second-placed Arsenal at the time.
Arsenal made two significant signings in the summer of 1990, acquiring the services of exciting Swedish winger Anders Limpar from Italy’s Cremonese for £ 1 million and Queens Park Rangers goalkeeper David Seaman for a fee of £ 1.3 million, a world record for a goalkeeper at the time. Both played a key role in Arsenal’s title victory.
It was a campaign that started well with some notable wins, such as a 1-0 triumph at Manchester United, a game marred by bad behaviour from the players, ultimately earning Arsenal a two-point deduction.
When Arsenal met Liverpool in December, both teams were unbeaten in the league, with the Merseysiders six points ahead of George Graham’s side. Arsenal won 3-0 against a defensive Liverpool line-up and cut the gap to three points. On January 19, after beating Everton 1-0, Arsenal went top for the first time in months as Liverpool were held at Anfield by Wimbledon.
Arsenal lost their unbeaten record on February 2 at Chelsea but they regained their composure and, despite briefly losing the leadership, they remained top from the end of March to the final game. The game which started to point the title in the direction of North London was at the start of March when Arsenal won 1-0 at Anfield.
Liverpool lost their stability and, to some extent, their confidence after the departure of Dalglish, losing six of their eight defeats in the final 13 games, with a number of defensive weaknesses exposed. Arsenal, meanwhile, were characteristically efficient and kept 24 clean sheets in 38 games, demonstrating their solid, consistent back line, despite losing Tony Adams to a four-month prison sentence.
Any hopes of a second “double” for Arsenal were dashed in mid-April when Tottenham beat them 3-1 at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-final. But on May 6, Arsenal clinched the championship when they beat Manchester United 3-1 at Highbury as Liverpool were getting beaten 2-1 at Nottingham Forest. They rounded-off the season with a 6-1 win against Coventry City with Limpar netting a hat-trick. The gap between Arsenal and second-placed Liverpool was seven points.
In many ways, Arsenal’s success emphasised that the era of Liverpool was over and, with a young team approaching its peak, suggested the Gunners could well become the next dominant force. It didn’t quite work out that way.
Arsenal’s championship winning team was largely drawn from the following: David Seaman, Nigel Winterburn, Lee Dixon, Tony Adams, Steve Bould, Anders Limpar, Paul Davis, Michael Thomas, Paul Merson, Alan Smith, Perry Groves, David Rocastle, Kevin Campbell.
David Seaman (26) Nicknamed “Safe Hands” in recognition of his consistency and reliability, Seaman was signed from QPR for £ 1.3 million in the summer of 1990. Previously with Birmingham City and Peterborough United. A renowned expert penalty saver, Seaman won 75 caps for England and spent 13 years with the Gunners before joining Manchester City in 2003.
Lee Dixon (26) Arrived at Arsenal in January 1988 from Stoke City after earlier playing for Burnley, Chester and Bury. Good going forward and linking-up with forwards and midfielders, Dixon went on to win 22 England caps and played over 600 games for Arsenal before retiring at the age of 38 in 2002.
Nigel Winterburn (26) Left-footed full back who joined Arsenal in the summer of 1987 from Wimbledon, costing the club £ 350,000. Began his career with Birmingham and Oxford before joining Wimbledon in 1983. Won two England caps and played over 400 league games for Arsenal, leaving the club in 2000 to join West Ham United.
Tony Adams (24) Romford-born central defender who captained Arsenal for 14 years from the age of 21. In a one-club career, he played 669 times for Arsenal, scoring 48 times. He was capped 66 times by England and also captained his country. After revealing he had addiction problems, Adams’ career was revitalised by manager Arsene Wenger and he went on to play for the club until 2002, retiring at the age of 35.
Steve Bould (27) Joined Arsenal in 1988 from Stoke City, his home town club, for a fee of £ 390,000. A tall, commanding central defender, he won two caps for England and became a trusted member of the Wenger set-up several years later. Played more than 300 league games for Arsenal.
Michael Thomas (22) London-born midfielder who came through the Arsenal youth scheme and made his debut in 1984. Scored the vital goal that won the 1989 championship, but within two years, was sold to Liverpool and his career went into something of an anti-climax. Won two England caps. Later played for Benfica and Wimbledon.
Anders Limpar (26) Skilful winger signed from Italian club Cremomese for £ 1 million in the summer of 1990. Born in Solna, Sweden with Hungarian roots, his stay with Arsenal lasted four years before he left for Everton. He won 58 caps for Sweden in a much-travelled career.
David Rocastle (23) South Londoner who was one of Arsenal’s outstanding home-grown products in the 1980s. Nicknamed “Rocky”, he was popular with the Arsenal crowd and when he was sold in 1992 many were upset that the club dispensed with his services. He had played 228 league games for the Gunners. Rocastle was sold to Leeds United for £ 2 million and his career went downhill from there, latterly playing for Manchester City and Chelsea. He won 14 caps for England. Tragically died at the age of 33 in 2001.
Paul Davis (28) Left-footed midfielder who made his debut for the club in 1980. Made over 400 league appearances for Arsenal, despite falling-out with manager George Graham, before joining Brentford in 1995 on a free transfer.
Paul Merson (22) Right winger who graduated through the club’s youth system. He won 21 England caps and played in the 1998 World Cup, although as a Middlesbrough player, the club he joined in 1997 from Arsenal. He played more than 400 games for the Gunners, scoring almost a century of goals.
Perry Groves (25) London-born winger who was signed from Colchester United in 1986 for £ 50,000, becoming George Graham’s first signing for Arsenal. Stayed with the club until 1992 when he joined Southampton.
Alan Smith (27) Tall centre forward who joined Arsenal in 1987 from Leicester for a fee of £ 800,000. Good in the air, he was also adept at holding the ball up and laying off to team-mates. Started his career with non-league Alvechurch and moved to Leicester in 1982 where he scored 76 goals in 200 league games. At Arsenal, he played 347 games and scored 115 goals. Won 13 England caps, scoring twice. Leading scorer in the first division in 1990-91 with 23 goals.
Kevin Campbell (19) Powerful striker who graduated through the Arsenal youth system. Made 228 league appearances for the club, scoring 46 goals before joining Everton in 1999. England under-21 and B international.
Football League Appearances and Goals
Adams, T 30; Bould, S 38; Campbell, K 15+7; Cole, A 0+1; Davis, P 36+1; Dixon, L 38; Groves, P 13+19; Hillier, D 9+7; Jónsson, S 2; Limpar, A 32+2; Linighan, A 7+3; Merson, P 36+1; O’Leary, D 11+10; Pates, C 0+1; Rocastle, D 13+3; Seaman, D 38; Smith, A 35+2; Thomas, M 27+4; Winterburn, N 38. Goalscorers: Smith 23, Merson 13, Limpar 11, Campbell 9, Dixon 5, Davis 3, Groves 3, Thomas 2, Rocastle 2, Adams 1, O’Leary 1, Own Goal 1 Total: 74
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